Katima McMillan was fed up. After police killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville and a racist incident occurred in early May in Frankfort, the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was the last straw.
“I was banned on Facebook for trolling a girl who posted a video of her kicking her dog and saying the n-word,” McMillan said. “I was banned for a week.”
When McMillan was allowed back on Facebook, she posted a live video saying she wanted to do a protest in Frankfort. She was immediately flooded with messages of support and people wanting to help her plan the event.
“I sparked the flame and it ignited,” McMillan, 24, said. McMillan is a 2014 graduate of Franklin County High School.
Barbara Petty, Trish Freeman and Nataleé Cleveland were three of the people who reached out to McMillan after her video. They were also fed up with the current racial tensions in the country and were eager to have a Black Lives Matter rally in the capital city.
“The reason I was speaking out and loud, is because my soul is not for sale,” Cleveland said. “My family, my kids will not cave to white supremacy. Whatever door is in our way, we’ll kick it down if it has to do with the color of our skin.”
Cleveland, 29, is a 2009 graduate of Frankfort High School. She is working toward a master’s degree in counseling at Kentucky State University.
“I grew up in the ‘90s in South Frankfort, and that was a time of police brutality in our town,” she said. “I have seen a lot happen to family and friends. I’ve experienced a lot of racism in Frankfort and I don’t want my kids to grow up with the same experiences.”
Cleveland is the mother of an 8-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy.
For Freeman, 23, being a part of the Black Lives Matter movement is a chance for her to educate people and help them change their views on black people.
“My kids are black and I don’t want them going through the trial and tribulations that black people go through now,” she said.
Freeman, 23, grew up in Shelbyville but is a 2015 graduate of Franklin County High School. While growing up in Shelbyville, Freeman said she was always singled out by people of authority for being the “little white girl that hung out with the black kids,” she said.
An incident occurred her freshman year of high school in Shelby County that was a turning point for her.
“A friend of mine was killed by the police in his own home,” Freeman said. “His family got compensated. I just don’t feel like $100,000 is the price of a life. He was 18 years old.
“That’s what got me started in the movement back then.”
Petty said typically she’s a passive person.
“I’m nice to everyone,” Petty said. “I brush things off to the side. I go to work, then come home and take care of my kid.”
However, after the death of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the video surfacing on social media of the girl in Frankfort using the n-word, that all changed for Petty. She had to get involved and help McMillan plan the June 5 Black Lives Matter rally.
“I didn’t want to sit behind my phone and text or type, I had to physically do something,” Petty said. “My child is the most beautiful chocolate brown. In the community I live in and society I live in, people don’t look at him the same way I do. He is going to be different. I don’t want anyone to look at us and think we’re a threat.
“I don’t want to continue on in this life if I don’t do anything for these children.”
Petty, 30, is a 2008 graduate of Franklin County High School. She plans to go back to school at Kentucky State University and currently works at Panera Bread as a zone leader and assistant trainer.
On May 24, the four of them met and went to work planning an event that they had not expected to be so big.
They called in other key players Erik and Molly Jarboe, Jordon Smith-Willis, James McGraw and Izzy Johnson to help them spread the word and plan the rally. The group of nine called themselves the “For the People Coalition.”
“In the first initial conversation, we assigned roles,” McMillan said.
However, it wasn’t a dictatorship. “People took roles and we started reaching out to people we needed to reach out to.”
McMillan spoke personally with Mayor Bill May, who gave her his blessing to have the rally despite not having enough time to legally obtain a permit. She also set up a meeting with the Frankfort Police Department and introduced them to the guys who McMillan had asked to help control the crowd during the rally.
“The day of the rally, we policed the police,” McMillan said. “There were only a couple officers there.”
However, the officers weren’t needed.
“The protest was peaceful,” McMillan said.
Cleveland said that she heard that 3,500-5,000 people participated in the rally even though they only started promoting the event two days in advance.
“When we were planning, we thought maybe 500 people would attend,” Freeman said. “We had one virtual flyer going around and it was private. We chose not to release it until two days before the march. We handed out paper flyers the day before.”
Freeman said they chose not to release the information about the rally earlier as an attempt to discourage “not like-minded” people from attending.
“We didn’t want them ruining the moment,” Freeman said.
The four women said they were amazed by the number of people who showed up on the lawn of the Old Capitol, where speakers kicked off the rally. The participants then marched to the Capitol with McMillan and Smith-Willis leading the way, holding a banner.
“We got to the Capitol and looked back to see all of Capital Avenue filled with people,” McMillan said. “We both started bawling.”
At the Capitol, more speakers spoke out in support of black lives. State Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, spoke before Gov. Andy Beshear came out before the crowd.
“I will never be able to feel the depths of your frustration,” Beshear was quoted as saying during the rally. “I will never be able to feel the depths of your fatigue. I will never be able to feel the depths of anger that’s arisen from hundreds of years of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and racism, but I hope you see someone who’s listening.”
McMillan said they wrote Beshear a letter telling him about the rally, but they didn’t know if he had actually received it. “It was not planned,” she said.
Smith-Willis said he was proud of his community.
“There’s no community without unity,” he said. “With Frankfort being the capital city, we have to be a good role model.”
Erik and Molly Jarboe were also proud of the community.
“Look what we did in one week of work,” Erik said. “I hope the day after the rally there were some uncomfortable conversations happening at home that hadn’t happened yet.”
Molly said that the rally was a good start but that the community can’t be complacent.
“I hope that we can build on that momentum,” Erik said, which is exactly what they have been doing since the rally.
On July 4, McMillan and some of her friends went to Washington, D.C., to protest the holiday and raise awareness about Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation of slaves in the U.S.
“Why isn’t Juneteenth just as big?” McMillan said.
Also for Juneteenth, Petty said she put together a pamphlet about the holiday and handed it out in the community.
“It gave information about Juneteenth — what it is and who it’s about,” Petty said. “In the last couple of months, I’ve done more reading and writing than I’ve done in a long time. It’s good because I have people charging me up in a way I have never been charged up before.”
Cleveland said the work of For the People Coalition was not just the one-time rally event.
“This is not just a movement,” she said. “This is going to stick around. This is the future. The coalition is looking to educate wherever we can fit it in — to grow our movement.”
McMillan said the coalition has also been creating civic videos that educate people on voting. During the primaries, the group gathered information about each local and state candidate. They provided information on each government position.
“There are a lot of young people who have now registered to vote, but they don’t know what our government does,” Cleveland said. “They don’t know how all these things in the world trickle down to city and state.”
The coalition also helped spread information to people with felonies about how they can check their eligibility to vote.
“Our main goal in the coalition is to educate,” Freeman said. “We try to do that as much as possible. Education of what’s going on in the community and stuff you’re not aware of.”
Cleveland said the group has also been spreading information and hosting rallies at the Franklin County Courthouse for John Brandon Lamotte, who was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison on a charge of first-degree assault last year in connection with the stabbing of his neighbor in Frankfort in 2017. The group is also working to push the city to make renovations to Dolly Graham Park.
As far as the future of the coalition, Cleveland said the group isn’t going anywhere.
“We want every door in our way knocked down,” she said. “I don’t want my daughter to be the first black anything. It should just be regular.”
Cleveland said educating the community is going to continue to take place. She wants people who aren’t of color to see what is happening to the black community and join in the fight against racism and institutional racism.
“This fight is taking a long time and what we lack is white people standing up,” Cleveland said. “We don’t want to be superior; we just want to be the same. I just want to be as equal as my white peers. I want to use my voice like I have white privilege.”
Petty plans to also keep pushing education.
“I want to see more than just a month or a couple of weeks of black history celebrated in February,” Petty said. “I want blackness to be celebrated 24/7. I want it to be taught in history books with pictures of people crammed on boats and the lacerations on their backs.”
Freeman hopes to further the movement of young people bringing about change in their communities.
“I want youth to be more proactive than reactive, and know how they can change the narrative,” Freeman said. “No, we can’t put a stop to racism in any form, but we need to notice it and make a change. We don’t need racist people in charge.”
She doesn’t want there to be barriers in the path of her children’s futures.
“I don’t want them to grow up and think cops kill black folks and that’s just how things happen,” she said. “Or, this place won’t hire me because it’s all white people. They need to think, ‘I need to be the CEO, or ‘I need to be the chief of police so I can put a stop to this.’”
Smith-Willis hopes that younger black generations voice their opinions and get their message across.
“I hope that the next generation adopts our methods and past methods,” he said. “Hopefully, in 10 years, it’s a whole different fight. I hope there isn’t police brutality.”
For McMillan, she is in the fight for the long haul.
“This revolution has been going on for over 400 years,” McMillan said. “Now, they have the wrong generation. We are, consecutively as a whole, tired. The elderly people are tired and can’t even march with us. The torch is being passed. The people protesting are the revolution and we’re not going to go anywhere until we bring attention to ourselves and hold people accountable, including the police, for their actions.”